*** There is talk of human reproduction and such in this little post here so if you get scared by laying your eyes on TMI, you might want to just use your back button. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya. ;) ***
We wanted to wait a few months to have kids after we got married (December ‘07). Anthony was in school full-time and I was working full-time so throwing a baby into the mix might’ve been a tad stressful. He’d be done the upcoming May though and so we thought maybe right after that would be a good time for an addition. He could get a job and I could maybe stay home with our kid(s). That was the plan. At the time, we were charting my cycles using my body temperature and other signs (like cervical mucus consistency and the position and feel of the cervix) a woman’s body exhibits to determine where I was in my cycle and whether or not I was fertile at any given time. It’s called Natural Family Planning…you might’ve heard of it. Since we were trying to avoid getting pregnant, we simply didn’t *you know* during the times I was fertile. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Right. And it was, only we were a little reckless three months in (and by reckless I mean we disregarded my chart thinking we’d just see what happened if we, *you know* during my fertile cycle). Well, guess what? There were two lines on that little stick a couple of weeks later. :) We were so excited! It was a tad earlier than we had planned but I guess we thought we’d worry about that nine months down the road. With the help of our Maker, we had made this tiny little human being that was equal parts Anthony and Sheena. What could be more amazing (probably a tiny little human being that was 75% Anthony and 25% Sheena but…)?? I called the nearest Ob/Gyn office, told them I was pregnant, and asked for a lady doctor because I’m squeamish like that. At seven weeks pregnant, Anthony and I walked into that office knowing that we were about to see our tiny baby in our first ultrasound and our hearts were pumped.
Once everything was situated and what looked like static started to glow on the screen in front of us, the doctor (who was filling in for my real doc who was on maternity leave at the time) didn’t say anything but “Hmmm…” and it seemed like it was taking him an awfully long time to show us our baby. Finally he stopped moving the wand and on the screen was a bunch of gray stuff with a small black hole in the midst of it. It was an “empty sac or blighted ovum” as he called it. He told us the gestational sac had started to develop but not the embryo and that I’d eventually miscarry the sac. He told us he was so sorry and left the room. Anthony and I cried. We held each other close in that dark room and just cried.
I didn’t want to go the D&C route (Dilation & Curettage – a surgery performed after miscarriages) and so it wasn’t until two weeks later that I started miscarrying on my own. Two weeks after that I was still bleeding and woke up one midnight to very heavy bleeding and huge blood clots. Anthony and I rushed to the Emergency Room where we sat for several hours, waiting for the bleeding to wane; me hooked up to an IV. It did and we were sent home, tired and reliving the fact that our baby hadn’t made it past its first few hours/days. It wasn’t until another week and a half later that I actually passed the leftover tissue and stopped bleeding a few days after it had.
My doctor told us we should wait a month to try conceiving again. We did and after a month, we started carefully watching my charts to know when our highest chances of conceiving were. It was August ‘08. Six months later I went in for a regularly scheduled pap smear and told my doctor that we had been trying to conceive again with no luck. She told me to start taking cough syrup around the time I’m fertile and that should do the trick (it loosens cervical mucus). Alrighty then. Will do.
No results though. In June ‘08 we packed up our lives and moved ourselves down to Alabama. We continued watching my charts, trying and trying and trying, but every month my now-dreaded period came and every month we got more and more discouraged. Would we ever create another baby to call our own? Would we ever get to see what Anthony + Sheena looked like? Would I ever get to experience a live human being dancing within my womb? Those were almost daily questions.
As hard as it was to suffer through the infertility though, we knew God had a plan. There are so many babies and children out there in need of a good home with loving parents and maybe we were called to open our arms to them and call them as our own. Adoption, as great of a thing as it is, is a tough pill to swallow though when you’re longing for your own. We were open to it and we loved the prospect but the cloud of infertility did not disappear.
Then a life-changing encounter happened. It happened in November ‘09 while we were attending weekly meetings of a book study group at our church. It was a fairly small group of people we’d meet with and one of them was an Ob/Gyn, we’ll refer to him as Dr. P. As of yet, I hadn’t met with any other Ob’s down here and I wasn’t too keen on calling up a male for the job but something made me talk to him. One night after book study, Anthony and I pulled him aside and told him a little about our troubles. He listened and told us to come see him as soon as we could and we’d check things out. So we did.
We started out with Dr. P by getting monthly ultrasounds during my fertile period to determine whether or not I was ovulating. My charts were showing regular cycles so his assumption was that maybe I wasn’t ovulating. These happened December 2009 - March 2010. My very first ultrasound showed a ruptured follicle, which was good! I had ovulated on my own! The next few months we did the same thing and every ultrasound showed a well-maturing egg. After the ultrasounds at which a mature egg was spotted, I was given an hCG injection, which helps trigger egg release. Even though my first ultrasound showed I had ovulated on my own, we just wanted to be absolutely certain so the hCG made sure the egg would be released. The next 24 hours after the injection were critical in making sure that *you know* happened. We did this for months though without a pregnancy. During this time we also had a semen analysis done – we *you know* with a perforated condom which we emptied into a hospital-given plastic container and high-tailed to the lab directly after to be analyzed. The analysis showed everything was perfectly normal there. I think I already knew it was me and not Anthony but the realization was a little hard to swallow. But, man, do I have an incredible husband. It wasn’t my battle. It was ours and his love so evidently made sure I knew that.
Four months after we had started the monthly ultrasounds, Dr. P did a post-coital test. Basically Anthony and I had to *you know* and directly after we did, I had to head straight for Dr. P’s office where he pulled some of Anthony’s sperm out of my vaginal canal and looked at it under a microscope to see how it was interacting with my mucus. The results were bad. It seemed that I had an auto-immune issue. Basically, my body was sending antibodies to kill Anthony’s sperm the minute they entered my system, seeing them as bad foreign objects. Not great if you’re trying to get pregnant. To treat this issue, we abstained from sex for six months – March-August, 2010. Yeah. Tough. The hope was that, by not subjecting my body to Anthony’s sperm for a long period of time, the antibodies would just disappear as they would no longer be “needed”. I don’t remember a lot about that six month period…must have blocked it out. :) After our six month hiatus, we had another post-coital test done that showed normal results! A great thing to hear after such a sacrifice!
We thought for sure we’d get pregnant the next month now that the “problem” was solved but we didn’t, nor did we the next month or the next after that. At this point, I was labeled with “unexplainable infertility”. All systems were go as far as the eye could see yet there was no pregnancy.
At what seemed like a dead end, we once again brought up the topic of adoption and I also started charting my cycle using the Creighton Model. We had read and heard testimonies of people who had used the Creighton Model and it’s sidekick, NaProTechnology, to get pregnant with incredible results. You can learn more about it here. We had to go to an inital class to learn to chart using this model and then I met with a Creighton Model Practioner who looked at my charts with me and helped me (Felricia is the best!). After a few months of charting my cycle using this method, we learned that I had signs of a few reproductive issues. (For one, I had brown bleeding at the end of my cycle/beginning of my next cycle that signaled possible endometriosis. It’s amazing what you can learn from just watching the signs your body shows you, isn’t it…God wasn’t kidding around when He created these masterpieces we call our bodies.) In order to look into and hopefully treat whatever was going on with my body, we needed to have a hormone analysis and possible laparoscopic surgery done. But, we ran into another hurdle. We found out that NaProTechnology in Omaha, Nebraska (where we’d go to have the surgery) didn’t have a contract with our current insurance and there was no way we could pay for it right away (it was something like $8,000+). We decided to start saving and praying whether maybe this was just God’s way of telling us to let go and then a light bulb went off a couple of months later. Why didn’t we ask Dr. P if he could perform the surgery? Well, guess what folks, we asked him and he said of course because, as it turns out, laparoscopic surgeries are done by Ob/Gyn’s everywhere. I guess we were just naive in thinking that it was a surgery only done by NaPro doctors. (Side note: We found out right after the twins were born that NaPro contracted with our insurance which is great for those in similar situations as we were! Also, just so I don’t make it sound like NaPro isn’t needed just because any doc can perform a laparoscopic surgery, the work of Dr. Hilger’s and his NaProTechnology is incredible and a HUGE blessing to couples trying to conceive and he deserves all the admiration and recommendation in the world. And did I also mention how coincidental it was that not only did our Dr. P agree to the surgery but he was also very familiar with the work of Dr. Hilger’s as he had read his entire medical book on NaPro!!) So, not only did the clouds part and sunshine beam down upon us but also, our insurance would cover the surgery. Once again, that familiar feeling of rising hopes came over us and we scheduled a surgery.
A few months before the surgery I had a hormone analysis done by our doctor. I had to get my blood drawn every couple of days during my cycle and that blood was analyzed to check my hormone levels at any given time during my cycle. The end results were fairly normal. My hormones were just as they were supposed to be with the exception of progesterone which was a little low, but not alarmingly so. Just to be on the safe side though, I was given a prescription of progesterone that I used after ovulation/during the last half of each cycle.
Next up was the surgery. I had it done August 25, 2011. My “unexplainable infertility” label was ripped off that day when my doctor found I had endometriosis, and pretty severe at that! It had spread to the outside of my uterus and to my ovaries and was probably blocking my released eggs from getting to the fallopian tubes, or so we hoped. During the surgery, my doctor removed most if not all of the endometriosis and also checked my tubes to make sure they weren’t blocked. They weren’t. We had the highest hopes of all that month, thinking that finally, we’d definitely be holding our own baby nine-ten months later. The endometriosis was gone, we already knew I was ovulating on my own, I’d had another hCG shot just in case, and I was taking progesterone. Everything was working for us this time. But the cycle after the surgery didn’t bring a baby but only much of the same and more discouragement and confusion.
The next month my doctor gave me the shot, I took the progesterone, and we added Clomid to the mix. Clomid is a med that stimulates ovulation. It has a reputation of causing a woman to create more than one mature follicle/release more than one egg which was why I was so nervous when he told me we should go for the Clomid. “But what if we have twins or triplets??” He assured me with a laugh that I had a very, very low chance (5-10% chance) of that ever happening but that I really should take the Clomid because if we’re serious about getting a baby in there, we should use everything at our disposal. “Ok.” He prescribed me a low dosage of the stuff and I went on my merry way that month armed with all my baby-making paraphanelia.
Well, guess what showed up a couple of weeks later?
Two little pink lines!
[Image via Smock Paper where this card is available for purchase.]
(I get a little weirded out when I see for-real pregnancy test sticks so I thought I’d spare you a photo of mine because 1) I didn’t take one and 2), maybe you’re like me and don’t wanna see it anyway. It’s kinda like weird as in me showing you a picture of some of my used toilet paper…or maybe I’m just weird for being weird about it but either way, we had a positive!)
FINALLY! We finally had another baby…or as we’d find out a few weeks later, babies. We didn’t know who to tell first! We wanted to shout it from the rooftops…but instead we made this (very primitive) video! There were many happy tears that were cried upon hearing that announcement but my favorite, most unforgettable response came from one of my best friends, Lauren. She cried and almost plowed me over. It was awesome. :)
. . .
So that’s our infertility story, or at least one side of it. The other side, in my opinion, is far more incredible though. Let’s dig in, shall we?
During our entire infertility journey, early-on and late in the game, my conversations with my Grandma (my mom’s mom) always consisted of her sweetly consoling me and telling me she was praying everyday that we will one day have children. “I’m praying you have twins!”, she always said with a giggle. “Oh grandma! Don’t do that!”, I’d tell her with a giggle right back. She’s one of the holiest people I know; her love for God is so evident and her prayers so powerful…obviously. Needless to say, I now always tell her my most important intentions because I know if she prays for it and it doesn’t happen, it ain’t God’s will. :)
Next, let’s go back to right before we talked to Dr. P for the first time; late 2009. I said this novena to St. Therese the Little Flower to offer up our infertility to God and to get some extra powerful intercession from this sweet little saint. (If you’re unfamiliar with what a novena is, read this.) Novena finished, I went to our first appointment with Dr. P a couple of weeks later (on a Wednesday) and that night, went to Mass with Anthony. Unbeknownst to me prior to walking into church that night, that Mass was a special one commemorating the Our Lady of Guadalupe Silver Rose Run.
[Image from here.]
This rose travels around the country going from church to church and this night it just happened to be at our church. I was convinced St. Therese wanted me to see this rose and that we were going to get pregnant this month. Also, for whatever crazy reason, I didn’t know at the time and until that particular Mass, that Our Lady of Guadalupe is actually depicted as pregnant with our Lord! The rose combined with my newfound knowledge of that blew my mind that night and I sat there and knew that I was supposed to acknowledge all of that that night. It was more than coincidence; it was meant to be. Well, as you know, I didn’t get pregnant that month or the month after or the month after. Fast forward a year and a half later, post-surgery and the month before we conceived the twins, we went to another Wednesday night Mass and lo and behold, the rose was making its way back through to our church! I didn’t see this until after but I had been to TWO of those masses in the past year and some. I watched as TWO roses were processed up the aisle; different times but TWO roses! TWO, TWO, TWO! Is it a stretch to say my prayers were answered with the TWO girls? I think not. ;)
There’s more though. Like I mentioned above, I charted my cycle and because I did so, I could pretty much pinpoint the day I ovulated every month. We conceived the girls late-October 2011. Soon after we found out that we were pregnant, I told one of our sweet friends and her husband, who had also known the cross of infertility (and who also just had their second sweet babe a couple of weeks ago!) She wrote me back and told me she had been wanting to talk to me for some time. She wrote that she had offered her up pregnancy and especially, her labor for us. Her sweet baby girl was six weeks old at that point. I was six weeks pregnant. Once again, not a coincidence but only the power of prayer.
A couple of weeks before we conceived, Anthony went to a healing Mass at our church. For some reason, I wasn’t able to go with him that night. At the end of the service, the priest who was celebrating was giving testimony of healings that had taken place during the service. One of those testimonies was this - “Someone is here whose wife has been unable to get pregnant. She has been healed.” Not a coincidence.
Also in October 2011, some dear friends of ours made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. They told us they would pray for us there. They lit a candle for us and also said prayers for us in Bethlehem in the Church of the Nativity. They told us that, when it was their turn to pray at and touch the place where Jesus was born, they heard a baby cry. We conceived several days later. Not a coincidence.
Months after the twins were born, a friend of ours came down to play a concert for a fundraiser. While he was here he pulled us aside and wanted to tell us that last mid-October (2011), he was at a Theology of the Body conference and during the conference was mention of infertility in one of the talks and, knowing a little about what we were going through at the time with our struggles with it, he felt it on his heart to pray for us and so he did; right then and there. Once again, a couple of weeks later, we conceived the twins. Not a coincidence.
A couple of months before we conceived the twins, some friends of ours went on a pilgrimage to World Youth Day in Spain and, while they were there, they prayed specifically for us at the Madonna del Parto (Our Lady of Childbirth) at the Basilica of Saint Augustine. One of the same friends who went on this pilgrimage prayed a novena to St. Therese with his wife (two of our closest friends) after his return. They said it for us. We conceived shortly thereafter. Not a coincidence.
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Matthew 7:7
After we learned we were pregnant, I went in at five weeks to get the usual blood work confirmation done and was so wrapped up in thought while walking through the parking lot to the doctors’ office that I almost ran into this statue (which just so happens to be in the middle of the sidewalk):
Catching myself from sure embarrassment and probably injury two inches before impact, I looked up at Jesus and the only thing I could focus on were his fingers. Peace. That’s what He’s imparting…you probably know. But all I could think was two. “Two?…I hope you’re not trying to tell me something Lord.” Those were my exact thoughts as I walked on into the building and about my day. Two weeks later, at our first ultrasound, we found out we were having twins and the first thing I did when I left that building was take a picture of this statue because, yes, he was telling me something and I had just realized what that was. :)
[37 weeks pregnant with the twins! See all the bellies here.]
GOD IS GOOD PEOPLE!
. . .
Infertility is hard. So hard. It’s an emotional roller coaster every. single. month. Will you get pregnant this month? Will it finally happen? Will it ever happen? What is wrong with us? What is wrong with me?
We relied on God so heavily throughout that period in our life and He didn’t let us down. We prayed every night that we would get pregnant and then right after that we prayed for His will to be done. If it was His will that we never conceive and bear our own biological children, then we would accept that. It wouldn’t be an easy thing to accept, but we would’ve. We never felt abandoned in our entire time struggling, but I know that it’s easy to fall into that thought; to feel like somehow God has passed you over. Like He’s punishing you for something you’ve done or not done. Like He’s purposefully making you barren when He’s blessing your friends with all the kids they want. He hasn’t and he wouldn’t. He has a plan. He always has a plan.
A dear friend shared this with me during that time we were both struggling with the load of infertility and it’s too profound to keep it to myself - “I had such an epiphany the other day. Sounds silly I'm sure, but, I realized that this is not a punishment. Plain and simple. I was not not getting pregnant because I wasn't praying enough or I didn't deserve it, or for whatever reason. I was talking with my husband and he just really helped me to understand something I didn't even know I didn't understand. He made the point that going through this is giving us a perspective no one else could have. He treated it as almost like a privilege (I'd be hard pressed to really call it that, but you know what I mean!) because God is teaching and growing in us in ways that others cannot experience. I just thought, wow, not only is this struggle bringing me closer to Heaven every day that I suffer in virtue, but on the other end of all of this God will have given me something he did not give to the ones without this cross. I came away from that conversation realizing God's amazing love for me, and how deep my love for Him was in return.”
. . .
Eight months after the twins were born, we weren’t even trying to get pregnant (but we weren’t not trying either) and whoop, there it was…a two pink lines that meant Sebastian was on his way. I thought for sure we’d have to brave those murky infertility waters again if we every wanted to have more kids, especially since Dr. P told us after my surgery that there was a good chance my endometriosis would return. I don’t know what the future holds as far as more kids go (we would love more but we’re working on being prudent over here) but I know that I have no signs of endometriosis thus far and I got my regular cycles back when Sebastian was at the ripe ‘ole age of two months (and I exclusively breastfed him so riddle me that one) so there’s been plenty of time for the issue to redevelop yet it seems as if it’s gone for good. Who knows? The bottom line is that whatever happens, God hasn’t let us down yet and so we will roll with the punches, try and be patient, and bet on Him. :)
“Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4